- ASAP Rocky - LiveLoveA$AP
- The Babies - The Babies
- Battles - Glass Drop
- Bibio - Mind Bokeh
- Bon Iver - Bon Iver
- Cage the Elephant - Thank You, Happy Birthday
- Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi - Rome
- "Drive" Movie Soundtrack - Cliff Martinez
- Dum Dum Girls - Only in Dreams
- Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues
- The Go! Team - Rolling Blackouts
- James Blake - James Blake
- Jay-Z and Kanye West - Watch the Throne
- La Sera - La Sera
- Panda Bear - Tomboy
- Peaking Lights - 936
- R.E.M. - Collapse Into Now
- Real Estate - Days
- Radiohead - King of Limbs
- The Strokes - Angles
- Thundercat - The Golden Age of Apocalypse
- Ty Segall - Goodbye Bread
- Vivian Girls - Share the Joy
- Wavves - Life Sux EP
- The Weeknd - House of Balloons
*Top 5 are italicized.
Number one main thing I feel like I’ve learned here: I need to be more patient.
What am I rushing for? There’s no age limit on filmmakers. It’s a different game for musicians and actors than it is for filmmakers. Even the one’s labeled as prodigies often didn’t direct their first feature until nearly 30.
Take my time, develop projects, make them as good as they can possibly can be.
I haven’t written nearly as many entries in Existential Musings as initially thought I would, but I found I use my moleskin journal to write down the majority of those kind of thoughts.
The truth is, ideas or thinking of the existential nature consistently race through my brain, especially now that I have so much free time to think. It’s interesting to go back and read my first entry in this series considering how much longer I’ve been here. I think I’ve accomplished more than I set out in that entry, but I was also head first into the experience and feeling a little defeated.
El Salvador’s heat was one issue, as was my struggles with Spanish (still working on that one). Trying to keep my normal running schedule and eating healthy, while also fully enjoying the gastronomy of a new culture is a tricky balance that I’m far from mastering. Let’s just hope I don’t come back tubbier and tanner.
There were many things I didn’t anticipate. As per most things, they never turn out exactly how you would expect. I also know now with 100% confidence that I have a tendency to idealize and romanticize things from a distance. I romanticized coming here in the same way that I’m sure I’m romanticizing coming home. I got a perpetual case of the “grass is always greener” syndrome pretty hard.
However, I hope that this won’t be construed as me being unhappy here or regretting my decision. Not all. This really has been a rewarding and incredible experience. I’m merely saying that it’s easy to think running away to Central America for six months to do what you want is going to be all sunshine and rainbows.
Of course, this is not the case. There are days where I greatly miss Los Angeles, I miss my family and my friends. I miss silly things like driving my car, the smell of my room, working at my favorite coffee shop or just the smell of the air after it rains in L.A. There are days I’d kill for just some brown rice, wheat bread and nonfat milk, not to mention things like sushi, boba and bacon.
I also felt this added pressure that if I wasn’t having the time of my life or getting a million things done that I was utterly and completely failing. I talked the talk about wanting to have all my own time to work on my own projects and learn about just the things that I wanted to learn about. Any moment that I wasn’t doing any of these things I felt like a damn failure. Also, if I was hasn’t having the best, most fulfilling time of my life doing so, did that make me not a real artist, or worse, an ingrate? Was I a phony who liked the idea of being a director and an expatriate without any of the real work involved who could only complain when he was given the opportunity to purse what he wanted?
If I don’t succeed in my desired carrer path, what was the point of financially crippling myself upon return? I’d often lay in bed at night with my head swimming and I still even have evenings where I still do.
To even say any of these things aloud felt wrong or bad. I was scared to share them for fear that friends and family would insist I should just come home or, worse yet, confirm the most negative things I can think about myself. But, in the end, writing helps, I got a month here, and really, fuck all that. I came here with good reason and I wasn’t going to throw in the towel prematurely.
While in El Salvador I’ve finished a short film, two music videos (the second is coming the 13th), a first draft of a feature length script, seven books and viewed over fifty films. I’ve swam in volcano craters, leapt from waterfalls, climbed Mayan ruins, met new friends and given who I am and what I want a long, hard, stare in the mental mirror.
Fuck being scared of sharing how I feel or holding back in anyway. If I want to flourish, if I want to grow, I have to move forward uninhibited. Unconditional acceleration.
Groggily, Nelson and I boarded a microbus and we headed out for the Tikal National Park. I most definitely knocked out on the ride there and only awoke once we arrived at the main gate.
At the gate, we were greeted by the park employee, Boris. Boris insisted that despite his Russian name, he was 100% Guatemalan and a native of Flores. After an energetic introduction, Boris collected park entry fees from all those aboard the bus.
The Tikal National Park costs $20 for foreigners to enter, one of the most expensive entry fees I’ve paid for anything in Latin America, but it was definitely well worth it.
Now, the hostel offered a tour service for an additional $20, but it’s getting to the end of my trip and I’m trying to conserve money where I can. Luckily, Boris was a very amiable guy and also I think pleased with the fact that we spoke Spanish, so he invited us on his tour with him free of charge.
Following some quick coffee at the park’s only restaurant, The Jaguar Inn, we headed into the park and amongst the ruins. The first pyramid we came across was out in the middle of clearing and had some large, round stones sitting in front of it. Boris informed us that these are were sacrifices and offerings were made on feast/ritual days, which was the primary purpose of Tikal.
We continued into another clearing to a couple of more temples were I learned that the Mayans used limestone and cement to construct all their temples. Unlike the pyramids of Europe, the pyramids at Tikal didn’t require generations and generations of workers to make. Because the limestone bricks were cut smaller and weigh less, a temple could be constructed in only a couple years.
As we walked around the park, the pyramids seemed to just keep getting bigger and bigger. One can’t help but feel awestruck when walking around these structures created hundreds and hundreds of years ago.
The next stop on the tour was the famous Temple IV. While most of the exterior is still under construction, visitors the park are still allowed to climb to the tob of Temple IV as it is the highest temple in the park and offers an incredible view.
Temple IV is also quite famous thanks to Mr. George Lucas. In the original Star Wars, Temple IV is used as the site of the Rebel base on the planet of Yavin IV before the attack on the Death Star is made (nerd alert). The six-year-old within me hurried up the steps with glee, for as much as working in Hollywood may have jaded me from these kind of things, Star Wars is still Star Wars.
The view from above Temple IV is incredible. The tall stone structures poke out over the Guatemalan jungle and the early morning mist pours out over the horizon. It is probably one of the most beautiful vistas I’ve ever laid my eyes on.
From the view of Temple IV, Boris chronologically led us to Tikal’s massively impressive Temple V. Previously, visitors to Tikal were allowed to Temple V, bue due to some accidents and some recent innovations it is currently undergoing, this is no longer the case. However, Boris decided to bend the rules for whatever reason and allowed us to climb Temple V on some suspicious looking stairs.
The climb up was fine and definitely put my calf muscles to work. Several of the other tourists made statements of safety concerns and wondering if we were all just stupid for even doing this in the first place, but I just reasoned that I came all the way out here to Guatemala to see some Mayan ruins and I was going to take full advantage of every opportunity that came my way. After all, there’s a thin line between caution and paranoia.
At the top, I could see the main square and much of the park from another amazing view. It’s incredible to think what it must have been like to be a traveler hundreds of years ago and to come across these architectural marvels.
For whatever reason, I found myself drawn to examine the texture of the pyramids themselves while atop Temple V. The view, of course, is amazing, but my focus shifted to how each and every little pebble and stone contributed its part to give this scenic gift me. Or, perhaps, I just didn’t want to look down. We were pretty high up.
I won’t like and say that the climb down didn’t scare me. I got pretty terrified knowing that one misstep or miscalculation would send me hurtling to my death, but I was had already climbed up and had no other option but to see myself down. One of my biggest goals of traveling has been to conquer fear in all its inceptions and here was one other opportunity to do just that and surprise myself. I was glad to reach solid ground again.
After catching my breath and collecting myself a bit, Boris led us from Temple V to biggest area in Tikal: the main plaza. After some parting words, Boris left us to explore the two large temples, living quarters and other ruins.
After being led on a guided tour, I enjoyed the opportunity to climb and explore all on my own. While at Tikal, I found myself in a state of perpetual fascination, fascination at the architecture, fasciation with the Mayan culture and fascination with the fact that I was actually there and walking amongst these ruins.
One of my favorite pieces at Tikal is a Mayan carving found in a substructure within the main plaza. There is an intricate care taken in the design and line patterns in the work that is one of the most appealing aspects of the Mayan/Aztec artistic aesthetic.
While no one is allowed to climb Temple I, and it’s heavily guarded ensuring no one will do so, we did climb Temple II to get another perspective of the plaza. This climb is much easier than Temples IV or V and the view from atop offers a satisfying, conclusive feeling to the entire Tikal experience.
As Nelson and I headed back down the path towards the park entrance and to our bus ride back to Flores, it started to drizzle lightly. The water felt refreshing after all the hiking and climbing, but also the cloudy, melancholy atmosphere seemed fitting as we prepared to leave this great place.
The bus back was bumpy and cramped, but I didn’t really mind. The driver blasted some Juan Gabriel and I was still riding the high of getting to see a place in the world I always dreamed of going to.
Last Wednesday, our third housemate and friend Gavan returned to San Francisco after staying with us for three months. As Nelson and I looked at the coming schedule for the month of December and then my departure in January, we realized this would be the last weekend in which our talks of going to Guatemala could actually become a reality. With that, we set about plans to visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal.
After we said our goodbyes and dropped off Gavan at the airport, Nelson’s father took us to San Salvador where we stayed the night with Nelson’s aunt. We awoke at 4:30AM the next morning to catch the 6AM bus from San Salvador to Guatemala City. We used the famous Tica Bus line and sat ourselves down for the first of what would be many hours on a bus.
As we approached the border to El Salvador and Guatemala, the bus opened its doors at a small side area where you are given 15 minutes to buy breakfast and exchange money. When we got off the bus, we were bombarded with people trying to sell us things and have you exchange money with them. It’s kind of overwhelming in a way, but we made our through and finally got to eat some pupusas.
We got back onto the bus and headed to the Salvadorian border checkpoint. There, officials came through and checked all of our passports and travel documents. Of course my passport is always a point of confusion here in Central America. First off, my picture is from 2004 so I’m a lot younger, chubbier and have different hair. Next, I have a a fully Latino name and I can communicate in Spanish, but my Spanish is with a Mexican accent and my passport is from the United States. I always get weird looks, then asked if my parents are Salvadorian. When I say, “No,” they want to know where my parents are from and what I’m doing in Central America. I got the look over quite a few times.
Seeing as how I’m not actually up to no good, we made it across the bridge at the border and onto the other side to deal with Guatemalan customs. In Guatemala, you have to get off the bus and stand in a line at the border where more people trying to get you to change money hound at you. I got my stamp to enter Guatemala far easier then when I entered El Salvador and we continued one our way to Guatemala City.
The Tica Bus approaches Guatemala City from above and descends down into this large metropolis. As we turned a mountain road, the vast cityscape came into view. We drove through a major business area where a large Christmas tree sat in a public square. However, instead of a star it was topped with a light-up rooster. Only in Latin America.
Guatemala City is broken into 12 different subzones with the bus dropping us in Zone 10. A woman working at the Tica Bus stop informed us of a shuttle service they have that would take us into Zone 1. It’s in Zone 1 where we could buy tickets for the 10-hour overnight bus ride into Flores, the gateway to Tikal.
Our shuttle driver was a character and looking to make some money. After he dropped off the first passenger at his hotel, he focused his attention to us and asked us where we were going and what our plans were. We told him we needed to change money, buy our tickets for the El Fuente del Norte bus line and get to the Cinelux where we hoped to catch the last day of a local film festival.
The driver offered to do all of this for us for a fee of $10, under the table of course. He proceeded to tell us about how dangerous Guatemala City was and how we was really doing this for our safety. For as much as he was totally bullshitting us, he did offer some helpful bits of information and got us to everywhere we needed, even if he did end up dropping us off four blocks away from the actual Cinelux.
This turned out in our favor though, as we found ourselves in the central square of Guatemala City facing the National Palace of Culture and la Calle Sexta, which is more or less Guatemala City’s version of something like the Grove or Americana.
We strolled through the city’s main square and find our way to the Cinelux where we actually managed to watch three shorts of varying quality as part of the Icaro Central American Film and Video Festival. The first short was a surreal drama from Spain that left me scratching my head (probably the same reaction some had to "Vision"), the second was a documentary on a Guatemalan beach community and their annual sea turtle festival (Festival de la Tortuga), and finally a documentary on an African festival that takes place annually in Cuba.
Following our film screenings, Nelson and I were starving and decided to take our chances with a Chinese restaurant on the la Calle Sexta. I ordered some ‘meat’ lettuce wraps that were quite delicious and tried a Gallo, Guatemala’s national beer. Random note, I’ve had Chinese food in both San Salvador and Guatemala City, and in both cities the meals are accompanied with two pieces of white bread as opposed to white rice. Still not sure why…
After dinner, we headed over and boarded our double-decker, leather seated bus that was scheduled to depart at 9PM. Once inside, I quickly fell asleep in my seat, awaking only when we crossed over some weird pot hole or the bus made an extremely sharp turn.
When I regained consciousness, we had arrived in Peten where we boarded a small motorized rickshaw that took us across a bridge and into the island community of Flores. Flores is the hub for tourists looking to travel to the Mayan ruins of Tikal. Flores is a very beautiful and small city, but it feels like a tourist trap. Every restaurant, hotel and business is catered to foreigners and their prices for food and groceries reflect that.
Nelson and I visited the tourist center and found a hostel to stay at called, "Los Amigos." Owned and operated by Europeans, “Los Amgios” is a lively place with a full restaurant and bar that caters to young people traveling in Latin America. It also offers a bus service to Tikal that leaves at 5AM so you can get into the national park before the crowds arrive.
One of the most surprising things I’ve learned about travelling is how much tourists end up just socializing and talking with other tourists. People leave their homeland to see the world and experience other cultures, but only want to interact with locals when it comes to ordering dinner, a beer or asking for directions. I know it comes from a desire to feel safe in a new and foreign place, but do backpackers actually want to experience another culture or just sample it and collect passport stamps?
With our room situation and bus ride to Tikal organized for the next morning, we wandered the small city of Flores and decided to take swim in the lake surrounding the island. The water was crisp, clear and clean, and it was very fun jumping off the pier into the water.
Hunger showed its face once again, so we found a small restaurant to eat dinner at in which we shared the large appetizer plater of calamari, fried eggplant, quesadilla, chicken wings and seasoned potatoes. We capped the night with drinks at a local bar which had a good jazz band playing. Initially, we were the only audience members in the whole place, but luckily for us, other foreigners showed up and relieved some of that pressure.
My alarm buzzed me awake at 4:30 the next morning and we got ready to head to Tikal.